Plant and Soil

, Volume 434, Issue 1–2, pp 79–91 | Cite as

Chlorophyll a fluorescence analysis can detect phosphorus deficiency under field conditions and is an effective tool to prevent grain yield reductions in spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.)

  • Andreas Carstensen
  • Augusta Egelund Szameitat
  • Jens Frydenvang
  • Søren HustedEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aim

Phosphorus (P) is an essential macronutrient with major impacts on global crop productivity. Recent work showed that chlorophyll a fluorescence analysis can be used as a sensitive indicator of latent P deficiency across different plant species. Here, we demonstrate that chlorophyll a fluorescence OJIP transients are a powerful tool for early detection of P deficiency directly in the field.


Barley was grown in a P responsive field. One treatment received 30 kg P ha−1 at sowing, four treatments were fertilized with P at 26, 35, 46 or 56 days after sowing (DAS), respectively, and the final treatment did not receive any P throughout the experiment. Chlorophyll a fluorescence measurements, multi-elemental leaf analysis, and growth stage evaluation were performed 26, 35, 46, 56, and 69 DAS.


Phosphorus deficiency during early vegetative growth irreversibly affected plant development including tiller outgrowth and grain yields. However, in the present study, yield reduction could be avoided if short-term P deficiency was corrected by application of P fertilizer no later than 35 days after sowing, when plants had not yet entered the tillering stage. The chlorophyll a fluorescence OJIP transients were able to detect latent P deficiency in this critical phase, thereby providing an opportunity for avoiding a potential yield reduction of up to 27 hkg ha−1. It was further noted, that chlorophyll a fluorescence analysis and P leaf tissue analysis should be performed during early vegetative growth, as probable remobilization of P within the plant during tillering and shoot differentiation masks the effects of P deficiency at the single leaf level.


It is concluded that chlorophyll a fluorescence analysis provides a unique opportunity for a timely detection and correction of P deficiency under field conditions to prevent yield reductions.


Phosphorus deficiency Chlorophyll a fluorescence Tillering Field experiment Barley 



This work was funded by University of Copenhagen and Innovation Fund Denmark (Future Cropping). We are especially grateful to Leif Knudsen (SEGES) for assistance with identifying P responsive soils, Jens Lyhne Kristiansen (LandboNord) for preparing the experimental field and finally Frede Jacobsen for making his field available to us. This work was supported by the University of Copenhagen and Innovation Fund Denmark (Future Cropping).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

A.C., J.F., and S.H. are co-applicants on the patent (PCT/EP2013/069899) describing the use of chlorophyll a fluorescence to determine the nutritional status of plants, and are founders of the university spin-out SpectraCrop IVS, marketing a hand-held device for predicting the P status of plants. For this reason, there may be a conflict of interest in order to show that the developed P model is able to predict the P status of barley leaves under field conditions. It should be noted that similar OJIP transients, as the ones recorded in this study, can be obtained by a broad range of standard chlorophyll a fluorescence instruments, including Photon Systems Instruments (PSI), Walz, Hansatech, Opti Sciences, Phenospex and MultispeQ.

Supplementary material

11104_2018_3783_MOESM1_ESM.docx (8.5 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 8750 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andreas Carstensen
    • 1
  • Augusta Egelund Szameitat
    • 1
  • Jens Frydenvang
    • 2
  • Søren Husted
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Copenhagen Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Natural History Museum of DenmarkUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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